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‘A Swallows Tale’

Here is my own little flying marvel, who has travelled maybe 6,000 miles to nest again outside our bedroom window .


This piece follows on from an earlier piece that I blogged about in April which you can read here.  The smaller piece was my first attempt at designing a backing that would tell a story.  I had never attempted stitching text before.  Both went well and I was pleased enough with the results of the first piece to attempt to tell the whole story of a Swallow’s Journey.

‘A Swallow’s Tale’

The story is inspired by Horatio Clare’s book ‘A Single Swallow’, a story  that maps Horatio’s 6,000 mile adventure following the migratory route of Swallows from South Africa to his home in South Wales.  Along the way we learn about the countries he travels through and the amazing people he meets along the way.  The book is far more than just a travel journal though and we learn to question with him our western lifestyle and need for ‘things’.


Once I had finished the book I started to plan the words that summed up the countries and the swallows journey.  I finally decided on a grid of 18 columns and 37 rows.  This gave me 666 squares to work with and fitted (to the maximum) a standard piece of art glass that was still affordable!

The trickiest part of the planning stage was fitting the words into the grid and then spacing them to fit in 6 swallows travelling along this map of text.  I decided I wanted the threads of the text to change colour with the journey, giving the impression of changing temperatures.

The text, on average took me an hour/row.  The concentration needed astounded me as if my mind wandered the needle started to travel…. Its been a challenge to say the least.

I have been thankful to have had more than one piece on the go at a time and it has been a welcome break to create some swallows, a vulture and a Rook.

Below you can see three of the swallows pieced and ready for stitching.


Again, two of the smaller swallows stitched and ready for placing on main piece.


Finally the first two swallows in place, it was great to see the text finally being broken up by some birds!

Below, the first large swallow completed and stitched in to place.  When you view swallows in flight from the ground they can look very dark, the red being almost unseen and their breasts looking quite creamy, grey.  When I played with the colours this looked wrong in practice so they have retained their red faces but with a darker body colour.



Below the largest of the swallows fixed into place and the wire drawn in ready for stitching.


Below, the piece is complete and ready to be sewn onto mount board ready for framing.  I feel quite sad to be nearly at the end of this journey and hope that Horatio will have another trip planned  soon…..




4 thoughts on “‘A Swallows Tale’”

  1. It has been brilliant to follow your progress and story with the creation of this incredible quilt. tanks for sharing it. I do understand why you are a little bit sad that it is finished – but I’m sure it is a relief too!! x

  2. I have just returned from the NEC exhibition and had to write to you to say how your single swallow affected me. I left a message in the visitors book, but felt I had to write to you as well. 19 years ago my husband and I purchased a derelict barn which had been the home of a number of Swallows. “Everyday during the conversion stage through the early summer I had to break down numerous early nest building, otherwise in the later summer we would have had to destroy nests containing baby swallows to enable the conversion to proceed. As a tribute to those swallows we called our new home Swallow Barn. Ten years ago we were lucky enough to visit family in South Africa and whilst there saw swallows who were also visiting that continent. Your simple (but certainly not technically simple, quite the opposite) message really rang true and I have just read your moving story of the development of your larger piece of textile art. I have been doing computerised machine embroidery for about 15 years and have just began free motion embroidery, although I like the description thread sketching and painting, but hope someday in the future I might aspire to a fraction of your talent. Thank you very much for having your piece of art at the exhibition at a time when I was looking for inspiration, I couldn’t have found a more inspirational piece. Very kind regards. Pat from Derbyshire

    1. Hello Pat, I cannot thank you enough for taking the trouble to write to me. It means a huge amount that the piece touched you and that you feel inspired to keep practicing your free-machine embroidery. I so enjoyed making the pieces and researching the story behind their epic journey. I am very envious of you seeing them in South Africa and love the fact that you named your barn after them. The secret with free-machine embroidery is practice, practice and relax! I used to have such tense shoulders when I stitched, worrying about where the needle was going to fall and how long the next stitch would be. With time I found it a really relaxing technique. I would love to hear how you get on and please don’t hesitate to ask if i can help.
      Many thanks Angela

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